After two days in the amazingly beautiful and energetic city of Paris, we took the long flight to Chicago, working on TAKA posts for several hours (it's a science during travel of this intensity to find small islands of time for communications back home).
What a welcome we received in Chicago, met by Jigisha Patel and her mother, Hansa, flowers in hand, giant smiles and kind words, making us feel instantly at home. Then a few minutes later came Gaurav and Ripla (and of course Aran) Malhotra, showering us with greetings. Then off to our downtown hermitage for a few minutes rest before dinner.
Dinner was not a trivial affair, but a banquet held at Jigisha's home. Hansa and Champak were there, and the Malhotras, along with Satya and Savitri Palani (who had come hundreds of miles from Fort Madison, Iowa, to be there) and some close friends and neighbors. The swamis gave a short talk, not a memorable one as the travel exhaustion factor was high and it was wee-hours-of-the-morning in Paris time (Senthilnathaswami officially declared his brain "off line").
But dinner woke us up. What a marvelous collection of luscious dishes, especially appreciated after so many weeks on the road, away from home cooked meals and those things, what are they called, vegetables? Check out two photos of the feast in our slideshow. Thank you, Jigisha and Hansa, for this delightful, warm and nutritious Gujarati welcome to Chicago and to America.
The days in Chicago were such a boon. Time to rest, time to chat with one another, time to walk the streets of the Windy City. Summar was in full force, with locals and tourists out on the streets in droves, enjoying the heat and sun after a late break in winter weather, to which must be added The Taste of Chicago happening not far from our hotel, along with rock bands from around the country performing in every venue in the city. Chicago was bustling.
Continuing our down time, we wandered the halls of the famed Art Institute with our hosts, seeing for the first time some treasured canvases of a bevy of Impressionists--Van Gogh (his startling self-portrait has to be seen in person for full appreciation), Monet, Gauguin, Degas, Cézanne, Renoir, Seurat, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec and more--many of them uncovered by glass.
But the real fun was to be found in the museum's Asian Gallery, filled with 1000-year-old Ganeshas, stone lingas, Muruga on His peacock, Natarajas and more Ganeshas. It was a delight so see the artistry that craftsmen achieved in those days. We were so drawn to the exquisite details that more than once a docent gently invited us to step away from the sculptures.
We took a boat ride along the Chicago River, a 90-minute passage through some of America's most important, and grand, architecture. We learned that this dense collection of massive and creative buildings was made possible by the 1871 Chicago Fire, which devastated the all-wood city (even the bridges were wooden in those days) opening the land to be resettled by America's foremost builders and designers.
Interestingly, the fire led Chicago to fight hard for the 1893 World's Fair in a winning bid to let the globe know it had recovered, and that led, of course, to Swami Vivekananda's speeches, and that led to his stop-over in Sri Lanka, and that led to a 19-year-old Yogaswami's attending his bold lecture, and that led to his thinking about the life of a Hindu monk, and…..you get the idea. Thank you, Chicago!
The blessings of Lord Murugan awaken wisdom which resides in his chakra. "Pray to Lord Murugan to unravel the great mysteries of the universe." When we get emotional we lose touch with our wisdom. Murugan inspires penance to soften karmas and purify the mind, chitta-shuddhi. If you do kavadi in the right spirit, to get the full blessing, have in mind specific misdeeds, apologize to the deity, learn from it, promise to do your best. Visions are still happening. Feeling the energy of the deity is stronger during festivals such as Skanda Shashti.